The term 'denialism' has come to be applied to a cluster of 'alternative' forms of knowledge, including Holocaust denial, global warming denial, anti-vaxxers, 911 conspiracism, creationism and more. In my forthcoming book Denial: The Unspeakable Truth, I argue that denialism arose in modernity as a result of a process in which, post-enlightenment, certain desires and political projects were rendered 'unspeakable' and impossible to legitimate publicly. Denialism is therefore a covert forms of advocating for and legitimating certain courses of action and ways of being in the world.
The 'alternative' to denialism is, therefore, a dystopian prospect; a world in which the unspeakable becomes speakable again. This alternative is more than a hypothetical possibility. There are signs of a transition occurring from denialism to 'post-denialism'. Post-denialism, embodied in the discourse of Donald Trump, eschews the masquerade of science and scholarship that defines denialism, in favour of a visceral kind of quasi-acknowledgement of that which is denied. This may signal a weakening of the boundaries of the speakable and a concomitant shift in the language of political possibility.
Dr Keith Kahn-Harris is a sociologist and writer. He is a senior lecturer at Leo Baeck College an associate lecturer at Birkbeck College, and a Fellow of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research.
This event is part of a series of public talks from the Leverhulme-funded project Conspiracy and Democracy.